Do You Love The Sun
Ashmont Records, Inc/Southbound
Hearing that always-about-to-break purr that is the world-weary-but-so-so-lovely/calm’n’gentle, soft and guiding voice of Joe Pernice is, for me, always a treat. And though the most recent Pernice Brothers album left me a little cold, well, a little bored anyway, I’ll always tune in to hear his voice – and by that I mean not just the ship-guiding voice (vocal) but the ship-building voice (his writing).
And so to hear that aforementioned ever-so-slightly-brow-beaten-but-always-looking-to-aim-high dulcet tone on a new Scud Mountain Boys album was a real treat. And the opening, title song really is lovely; it reminds me – too – of that other recent welcome return, The Jayhawks.
Pernice still does so-sad/so-lovely so well. And Double Bed matches the best of his Pernice Brothers material, lyrically, while slipping right back into that effortless comfort of the Scud Mountain Boys gentle-lapping, softly loping countrypolitan sound.
If you think back to that polite album by attempted supergroup, The Thorns you’ll conjure some of the sound and feel across Learn To Love Him – but it’s also not a far cry from back when Jeff Tweedy was writing actual country songs; you know back when the Scud Mountain Boys were – briefly – (almost) a thing.
It’s remarkable how easy, how effortless this is all is, slotting back into the sound. Always teetering toward nearly-nonchalant; The Mendicant is a standout with shadowing backing vocals and a shining pedal steel. The Scuds do subtlety (so) well.
There’s little of Pernice’s wry humour on display, instead it’s more the grim-but-that’s-life side of his writing, the dreary, the forlorn, the always-ready-to-grieve; that thing that Willy Vlautin has learned to do so well. She Falls Apart feels like a classic new take on the tears-in-the-beers 2am closing-time non-anthem.
And then – to kinda lighten the mood – we have a nearly-novelty reading of John Barry’s Theme From Midnight Cowboy; mandolin is the lead instrument here, the acoustic guitar a lapping tide gently swaying by its side. It sets up the final songs as near enough to a coda. First Drew Got Shot is one of Pernice’s best vocal performances, a lapsed gospel track, a newly fashioned old-fashioned work-song. And then there’s some sense of optimism in the closing track, You’re Mine. The Jayhawks and Son Volt come to mind, wistful as always but just that little bit more upbeat.
I’m in love with this album – I was from the first time I heard it. But I can appreciate others might be a bit bowled-over (in the bad way) by the lack of an upbeat feel. Well, go somewhere else for that. There’s so much beauty in the arrangements here, in the space, the mood. The songs are all standalone mini-masterpieces.
Not only a lovely record, but the best thing the Scuds could have done – it almost doesn’t feel like a 15 year gap. Also it’s something of a return to form for Pernice, much as I love what the guy’s about I’ve found it hard to really care since the brilliant Pernice Brothers record, Discover A Lovelier You. Nothing’s beaten that. And occasionally I’ve been disappointed. In some ways this is actually just the country version of that; or that was the ‘pop’ version of this.